The progressive dive of Catholicism into nothing

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

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The reform process (reform of the Curia? reform of the Church?) initiated by Pope Francis as a maximum development of the “spirit of the Council” appears to us, as we said several times before, out of touch with the present ecclesial reality, and this in two ways:

First, this process goes against what the remainder of Catholics expect. A remainder which is with many nuances, identitarian and in reaction against the “mixing in” of Christians into the world, which was the idea formulated at the time of the Council.

Also, the tentative to adapt to today’s world which has been brought to new heights is overtaken by postmodern Catholicism, as it was theorized by a group of theologians who espoused ultra-modernity way better than Amoris lætitia and Tutti fratelli.

They espouse it rightly by mixing in. Because, as liberal Catholicism advances under renewed forms whose pretension is to conform as much as possible the Gospel with modernity so that it may be allowed to make its voice heard, it looses its substance, indeed, mixing in to the point of disappearing.

We would like to evoke, here, some school of thoughts or “advanced” theological opinions by listing them according to a gradation as more or less advancing towards the religious nothingness. It should not be believed that because the liberal matrix generates void, these opinions will self destroy without having to fight them. For as long as the Roman authorities will not make use of their power – and of their duty – to cut off dead or dying limbs, it is the entire tree which will be sick and to the point of looking as if having to die.

The disintegration of penance: “the Eucharist for the type of Christianity that awaits us.”

The project to again turn the Christian community into a “community of the meal” presents itself to be much more “advanced.” In the January-March 2019 issue of the review Recherches de Sciences religieuse, Goffredo Boselli from the Bose monastery studium in Piedmont – the monastery is home to a community of men and women of different Christian denominations – publishes an article on this theme seeking to “think a Eucharistic theology for our times.”

It’s goal is to bring back the Eucharist and its rites to their neo-testamentary roots. Yet, as we know, the life of Jesus shows many examples of the joyful conviviality He practiced with all sorts of guests, and specially with sinners. In this sharing of the meal, in the times of Jesus just like today, the guests recognize themselves dependent on each other in the sharing of the bread and of the word.
Because Jesus shared the meal of the sinners, explains Goffredo Boselli, there can never be a “Lord’s table” which would not be at the same time a table of the sinners, the Eucharist becoming the fundamental location of mercy. Christ scandalized the merciless hearts Pharisees by eating with the sinners, such as Matthew and Zacchaeus (Goffredo Boselli forgets to note that it was to obtain the conversion of these sinners, conversion which actually happened in the case of Matthew and Zacchaeus and of others as well).

The table of the Last Supper, which resumes the sense of the table community lived with the sinners, says G. Boselli, as long as Jesus was only surrounded by sinners: Judas who betrays him, Peter who denies him, and the others who are going to cowardly abandon him. Except that, only Judas participates sacrilegiously in the Last Supper, the others on the contrary expressing their desire – which later will prove itself to be deficient, but only later – not to abandon their Lord. The Lord who responds “by forgiving the unforgivable” and by offering the cup of this Blood to all.

G. Boselli, in his own analysis of the Lord’s Last Supper, concludes that since the original Eucharist has had this purifying value of the sinners, it must carry it in the Lord’s table that the Church offers. Certainly, says G. Boselli, for the prodigal son to be forgiven, he has to “put an end to his disorderly life.” But, the love of the Father precedes the repentance of his son and “the conscience of his own misery carries in itself the desire for forgiveness, for a renewed life.” This desire, Jesus perceives it in the sinners he invited to his table during his life, up to the last meal, the one of the Last Supper.

Through this series of sophistic transitions, we come to what the article wanted to prove: “the Christianity that awaits us will require the acknowledgment of the persons’ moral conditions, of the most various ways of living, whether steady or temporary, experienced alone or together, eventually in same sex relationship.” Acknowledgement is to be understood as discerning the desire for forgiveness in people who come to seat at the Eucharistic table, even though their desire to change their life would be purely implicit: “We will have to give them a word capable of expressing the demanding nature of the Gospel and, at the same time, a word conscious of human weaknesses, mixing the two together without rejecting one or the other.” Not to “deny” human weaknesses… in short, to accept that these persons take part in the Eucharist while remaining in their sin. In this way, “the table of Christianity which awaits us” will be a “liturgy of mercy.”

Strange mercy that the one which will no longer tell the sinner: “Go, sin no more!”, but instead: “Come, with your weakness!”.

The disintegration of the Dogma: late modernity and the evolution of the doctrine of the sacraments

We mentioned, in the September 2019 issue of Res Novæ (#14), the important chapter written by Andrea Grillo, Sacramental and liturgical Theology professor at the University of Saint Anselmo, in Rome, “I Sacramenti come luogo di elaborazione di identità ecclesiale e di differenza sessuale”, in the collaborative work Donne e uomini : il servizio nella
liturgia [1].

To understand the debate regarding the ordination of women, one must keep in mind that, first, the motive of the impossibility of such ordination lays in the Revelation, the Magisterium being its conveyor and, second, that the theological clarification is provided by what is called the argument of convenience. This term convenience should not let us to believe that the arguments are weak and questionable: on the contrary, they come from the most specific theological reasoning, which strives to show coherence based on the reason and faith of the divine mystery.

Under this relation of convenience, Andrea Grillo who supports women presiding the administration of the sacraments, exposes that the reasons saint Thomas barred women from exercising these responsibilities was based on concepts considered today outdated: “in the female sex, because the woman is in a state of subjection, it is not possible to signify eminence of degree.”[2] This argument, given rather abruptly by saint Thomas, can be presented in a manner more fitted for today’s world by invoking the symbolism of the means of salvation by Christ-Head to his Body[3]. The Son of God, incarnated in a human as a male, chooses for his priests male men for reasons of convenience of a symbolic type, which is decisive in regards to sacramental matter. It had been clarified by the declaration Inter insignores of 15 October 1976: “It must be admitted that, in actions which demand the character of ordination and in which Christ himself, the author of the Covenant, the Bridegroom, the Head of the Church, is represented, exercising his ministry of salvation- which is in the highest degree the case of the Eucharist- his role (this is the original sense of the word persona) must be taken by a man.”

In regards to the magisterial argument of authority, the apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis of 22 May 1994, of John Paul II, which aims to confirm that women cannot have access to the priesthood, very naturally only reminds us that the priestly ordination exclusively reserved to men has been the practice taught by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church. Naturally also, Andrea Grillo’s main argument concerns the degree of authority given to Ordinatio sacerdotalis. He denies the letter the authority to say that such is the content of Revelation given by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church. In support, he calls upon the abashed explanations of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of 28 October and 19 November 1995. The CDF affirms, indeed, that Ordinatio sacerdotalis is not an infallible declaration in itself but only mentions that it was a doctrine already infallible a monte, in the prior ordinary magisterium. So, like A. Grillo says, we remain in a circle where a document would find its authority from the fact that it refers to other documents of which it attests of the authority.

But, whatever it is about the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith not having the courage to invoke the infallibility of the Church because of an unfortunate human respect whose precedent dates back to the last council, A. Grillo takes the opportunity to consider only the arguments of convenience promoted to the rank of ultimate argument. In other words, he rejects the depth of the divine will, and narrows the debate down to a question of “discipline”. He affirms in this way that the Church must today take into consideration the passage from a state of the  pre-modern world, where theology and “discipline” have put aside women from roles of responsibilities (including, he purposely doesn’t say, in the original sin, where the dogma reserves the role of decision-making to the father of humanity), to a totally different comprehension of the role of women today, in late modernity.

Thus, according to the modernist scheme pushed to its maximum, dogma is reduced to a sort of sociologic photography.

Religious disintegration: the spirit of Christianity from Fr. Joseph Moingt

The capacity for the dogma to be reformed is stated in an even more radical manner by the late Fr. Joseph Moingt, sj, in his book meant to gather his final thoughts, L’esprit du christianisme[4] (The Spirit of Christianity), which deliberately takes on the title of Hegel’s book: The spirit of Christianity and its destiny.

More than the inviolable dogma, it is religion itself that Joseph Moingt questions, considering the evangelic revelation as the one of a new humanism which would be the critical body of all religion, including Christian. In this way, what Chateaubriand credits as the Genius of Christianity in defense against the Enlightenment is in fact, according to J. Moingt, “at work in our post-Christian ‘societies’ ” and not on the part of religion, which must be well set apart from it. As a result the link between Western society and Christianity broken by the Enlightenment which actually had born of the Christian spirit and are in a way more evangelical than the religion claiming to be of the Gospel.

“With the Spirit we enter what is most secret and most relevant in the Christian faith which unceasingly thinks God in his relation to the world and to history” and which does not force man to practice any one religion. “This is why faith rejects recognizing itself in the irrational of a far away tradition which would impose itself to the faith through its longevity as well as its incomprehensibility called “mystery.” John supposes the sufficiency of love for salvation; Paul excludes the submission to the law to become children of God. This is why God is independent from the “particularist pretense of religions.”

Historically, the whole problem of Christianity, still according to J. Moingt, has been “the religious and the sacrificial turn, the latter happening in the wake of the first one” which it took or endured in the 2nd century, because of the necessary fight against gnosticism which had introduced much confusion and had to be stopped. Christianity then settled in as a religion, that is to say as “worship and community” (Troeltsch), and furthermore it established itself as sacrificial, devoted to “the celebration and the imitation of the death of Christ conceived as a sacrifice of expiation and reparation for the sins of men.”

As to the dichotomy between clerics and laypersons which comes from it reproducing a spirit of religion, it is unfaithful to the spirit of Christianity: never did Christ desire this mediation borrowed from other religion, which had lay baptized persons stripped from their priestly character by bishops. Laypersons are called today to take back their baptismal priesthood. Kant defined the Enlightenment as “man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.” Recovering the spirit of Christianity must have a similar effect: to release laypersons from their minority state where they remained voluntarily.

More fundamentally, if we considered Redemption, not according to a spirit of religion but by bringing it to its source which is the predication of the Apostles, we would gain access to “the truth of what man is, to the intelligence of the human subject most proper to build a human world, of which all members would help each other to live in freedom and fraternity.” Jesus did not call to salvation “as a man of religion, who is worried about the priority of his duties towards God,” no more than Paul announced the Gospel in terms of religion,” since the only precept he taught was to carry the burden of each other.

The French Jesuit thus carries as far as he can the old project of Catholic liberalism. He asks the question: The hope for salvation being to “render the Earth more habitable to the highest number of its inhabitants, deprived from the means of good living, of fresh air,” etc., is it for men to join the Christians or simply for the Christians to join the other men?

This is, indeed, he believes, what is to happen. But do Christians have something to bring to men though, meaning the spirit of the Gospel? Probably, says the theologian, but they have more yet to find in other men “what they have kept from the spirit of Christianity,” with which they have started to change the world. As a result, according to Joseph Moingt, Christians instead of feeling sorry regarding the disappearance of their Church must understand She is to take a different shape, at a cost of a deep reform.

“It is no longer a time for reforms, but for a radical rupture”

It is not the opinion of Fr. José Maria Virgil, a Claretian missionary from Nicaragua, supporter of liberation theology[5], who thinks that the era of reforms is over. In an article published in the French review Golias, titled “It is no longer a time for reforms, but for a radical rupture,”[6] he considers that in the post-religious time which humanity entered, Christianity has only but one option: “no more reforms, even less counter-reforms, but something else, mutation.”

For him, the religious phenomena, of which the Christian religion is an avatar, has “recently” appeared, in the neolithic age. During three millennia before our era, religions constituted themselves and shared the same anthropo-theo-cosmic presupposition giving way to the idea of a divinity “from above”. This period of history ended with the emergence and development of “knowledge societies”: the current modification of Christianity is similar to a genetic mutation which transforms the biological identity of a living being to provoke a change of specie; the result of this can be compared to the sinking of the Titanic, with passengers able to feebly gather with the orchestra at the stern and sink with the ship, or on the contrary to go to the bow towards the lifeboats for a new adventure.

Humanity, according to José Maria Virgil, is entering a new era of biological evolution, “in which the deepest dimension of its conscience no longer expresses itself under a ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ form.” The present challenge requires much more than Luther’s reform in the XVIth century which will look as a child’s play in comparison to the mutation that is about to take place today. This “spiritual genetic mutation” will have to be to the test of the great biological transformation the planet and the cosmos live in us.”

José Maria Virgil gladly refers to the Belgian Jesuit Roger Lenaers, author of Un autre christianisme est possible. La fin d’une Église moyenâgeuse[7] (A different kind of Christianity is possible. The end of a medieval type Church). He explains: “It will no longer be about duties and forbidden things, imposed from the outside by religions that will be able to inspire us.” And also: “But, knowing ourselves to be ‘autonomous’, that is to say free, it is for us to direct ourselves and to take charge of our world with all its tragedies, unjust and inhuman structures, as well as the planet which carries us and is being spoiled by our collective action.” In such a way that “we are no longer under the law, as saint Paul tells us but, animated by the spirit of Jesus, we recognize the presence of an Abba in the mist of ourselves, and he calls us to freedom, the freedom to love.” Definitely, some words that bear nothing new. We can actually note that we have here a common denominator to any liberal theology, as we have noticed previously: more or less audacious in regards to the cancelling of the dogma, in regards to moral they simply cancel all borders between good and sin.

These sorts of theologians are, in reality, heirs to theologians of the secularization, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer (“a world having reached adulthood”) and Jean-Baptiste Metz, or of the death of God, like Thomas Altizer, William Hamilton, and Harvey Cox. The principal issue of theologians such as Lenaers and Virgil is not so much in distinguishing themselves from atheism than in integrating atheism to faith, if the word ‘faith’ can still fit their reflection. As a result, writes Roger Lenaers, “such a presentation of the thought and of the Christian action contains nothing that  non-theist modernity could not subscribed to. In this presentation, the figure of a theos or “god above” has disappeared. The only thing remaining is the Original Mystery of which the name is Love.”[8]

It might still be too much.

Fr. Claude Barthe

[1] Under the direction of Andrea Grillo and Elena Massimi, Edizione Liturgiche, 2018, pp. 39-60.
[2] Summa theologiae, Supplement, q 39, a 1.
[3] See Gilbert Narcisse, « L’ordination presbytérale : hommes et femmes ? » (Presbyteral ordination: men and women?), in Philippe-Marie Margelidon (edited by), Questions disputées autour du sacrement de l’ordre (Disputed questions about the sacrament of orders), Artège/Lethielleux, 2018, pp. 213-241.
[4] Temps présent, 2018.
[5] Born in Spain, in 1946, priest since 1971, he lives in Nicaragua. He collaborated to the Antonio Valdivieso ecumenical center, participated in the foundation of the International Christian Secretariat in solidarity with Latin America (Mgr Sergio Méndez Arceo and Mgr Pedro Casaldáliga). He was part of the group of Amerindian theologians. He is a member of the Ecumenical Association of theologians from the Third-world and a member from the World forum on theology and liberation.
[6] 8 October 2020, pp. 7-8.
[7] Golias, 2011.
[8] Al is er geen God-in-den-hoge, Kapellen, 2009 – Aunque no Haya un Dios Ahí Arriba, Vivir en Dios, sin dios, Editorial Abya Yala, Quito, 2013.